US-Pakistan Realtions Under Trump?

Discussion in 'U.S. Strategic Affairs' started by Pathfinder, Feb 12, 2017.

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  1. Pathfinder

    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

    Dec 17, 2015
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    Trump and Pakistan

    Now where does this leave U.S.-Pakistan relations? Basically, relations with Pakistan depend on what approach he brings to the war on terrorism and to the Afghanistan war. The Obama administration lost its way in dealing with Pakistan. The president got too invested in India both for reasons of legacy and his focus on building India as a balancer to China. And that gave India a big voice in U.S.-Pakistan relations to Pakistan’s disadvantage.

    Obama was also in a hurry to leave some semblance of stability in the Afghanistan war as he left office. That led him to put too much pressure on Pakistan, egged on no doubt by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well. So relations with Pakistan came under strain as Pakistan felt squeezed on three sides. For better or worse Pakistan decided it would not give in under pressure.

    Trump will have no such political baggage and will be assisted by a secretary of defense who by all accounts seems to be a thoughtful and knowledgeable military leader with good understanding of history of wars and conflicts. I am sure the new administration will have a fresh look at the Afghanistan war as well as at broader American interests in South Asia. Obama’s pivot to Asia and the need to build up India as a balancer against China had created an imbalance in the U.S. approach to the region.

    The fact is that the lengthening strategic shadow of China is not the only challenge that the United States faces there. There is of course the unresolved conflict in Afghanistan, but also the looming threat of ISIS, continued militancy in Pakistan (both homegrown and Afghanistan-based), revolutionary Iran, and an assertive Russia. Pakistan is a factor in all this.

    The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has served some important interests of the two countries for over six decades and may continue to do so at least for the foreseeable future. Despite frequent breakdowns, the relationship has survived because both sides have felt a compelling need for each other and keep coming back.

    Pakistan has continued to provide valuable cooperation in intelligence-gathering related to transnational terrorists like al-Qaeda and ISIS or lone wolves. And this cooperation is very much needed and should continue. So sanctioning Pakistan is not an option — at least, that is what Defense Secretary James Mattis hinted in his remarks during his confirmation hearing. He warned that putting conditions on U.S. security assistance to Pakistan has not always produced the desired results.

    Will a continuation of the Obama policy of neither carrots nor sticks work? Washington needs to try something new, but it will not be easy to think up good policy. U.S. engagement with the region has revolved around two organizing ideas – China and the war on terrorism, of which the Afghanistan war is a part. For one, Washington needs India, and, for the other, it needs Pakistan. But Pakistan and India don’t get along, nor do Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is seen as destabilizing India and not helping stabilize Afghanistan. On top of that, its surrogates like the Haqqani Network are attacking American soldiers. And at the strategic level, Pakistan is seen as part of the Pakistan-China axis. That makes the relationship with Pakistan very complex. These irreconcilables have to be somehow reconciled.

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